[-empyre-] Vigilar y Castigar

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina gabyvargasc at prodigy.net.mx
Thu Jan 13 17:58:25 EST 2011

Hello all, thanks to Johannes for the questions.  I will try to respond to
both of his points:

The city of Merida, where I live, is being described everywhere (see
Wikipedia, for example) as 'one of the digital capitals of Latin America',
mainly because we have free wifi in most public parks and in most
Universities' cafeterias.  This is always portrayed as a good thing by the
local and national media.  We also have a 'cybernetic police', which
basically is a section of the state police force dedicated to follow
internet traffic in Yucatan, the Mexican state where Merida is.  On top of
that, we are probably the city in Mexico with more 'traffic cameras'.  They
are everywhere, and when the local police decides to follow a particular
vehicle, they can do so through their surveillance system.  I've heard of
people who got speeding tickets in the mail (happy not to be one of them so

Don't get me wrong.  Some good things come out of this system of complete
surveillance: last year a friend of mine had her credit cards stolen from
her purse and the thieves were identified in less than an hour in several
video recordings.  She did not press charges, so they were never processed,
but had she chosen to do so they would probably have been in jail in less
than 24 hours.

Other things are not so good: My husband's computer was stolen from our home
office last year.  I'm pretty sure the crooks have been caught, but there
were 'inconsistencies' and 'errors' in our police report, so we never got
the computer back.  The police here can decide at will what stuff to fetch
and return, even if there is little doubt who might have it and who the
original owners were.  My sister had cds and jewelry stolen from her house,
and the police caught the thieves and recovered everything.  She couldn't
have any of it back, though, because she had long trashed the receipts that
showed she had bought the stuff in the first place.  We are all expected to
hoard sales receipts and official documents of different kinds forever.

The surveillance systems in Merida are curtailing crime; I cannot deny that.
However, I do think that we are all paying for all this through the
systematic invasion of our privacy  and the increased feared everyone has of
everyone else around.  I also believe that, like Foucault explains in
Vigilar y Castigar (Discipline and Punish), through this universal
surveillance we are all internalizing what 'good behaviour' should be and
behaving accordingly.

There are in Merida digital 'bureaucracy modules': machines where you can
get copies of your birth certificate, your wedding certificate, your
driver's license or pay your annual home and car tax.  I've found that
anyone can request a copy of anyone's documents if you just pay the
corresponding fee and supply the right information.  We all get to check on
everybody else through all these 'digital city' systems, if we want.
At my university, if one connects to YouTube, a warning flahses: "This is
not an academic site, so it cannot be displayed on a campus computer."  I
have to ask for permission to have my students watch YouTube, do their
facebooks or create Google sites in class.  The digital world has created a
more efficient way of living (yes, I love getting my driver's license
renewed in 14 minutes) but it also creates the possibility for the universal
surveillance of everyone by everyone else.

Our Governess has received national awards for the 'peace and quiet' she is
said to have brought peace to our state, after 11 people were found beheaded
close to Merida the first year of her government.  Merida just got last week
a national award for being a 'City of Peace'.  I can't believe Merida is
considered one of the 60 most livable cities in the world because it is so
'safe': we are all under constant surveillance here; how can that be safe?

Merida used to be a lovely place to live in.  Now it has become a full
digital panopticon, and the worst part is that most Yucatecans I know
celebrate it, saying we live in a wonderful place because everything and
everyone are being watched by the police (!).

Students in my classes can perform their papers instead of writing essays.
They have to produce some kind of work involving the materials discussed in
class.  This class discussed Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, Butler, Spivak
and Haraway.  They chose to present five sketches, based on Foucault,
Baudrillard, Butler, Spivak and Haraway.  Another team chose Foucault,
Derrida and Baudrillard and they made a video, where the traffic cameras
were actually featured as examples of Foucault's panopticon.

I ask students to give me their scripts in advance.  For the panopticon
piece now on YouTube they wanted to show that we are all prisoners of our
lives, and that even when we are not being watched, the prevailing rhetoric
is that we ARE all being watched.  It is this possibility of universal
surveillance that makes people 'behave', more than the surveillance itself.
They believe Foucault on this.  They wanted to portray, they said, the fact
that the only way out of social control is by killing ourselves.  I thought
it was a dim view of the situation (Foucault, to my mind, is a depressing
theorist that way), but it has a long history in Yucatan: here we've always
had more suicides each year than in most of Mexico, at least during the 20th
century, both in the city and the countryside.  People talk freely about
'the rope' (most suicides are by hanging) as a way out.  It was striking for
me that the person shoots himself in the sketch.

They also told me in class that the classroom is a panopticon: they are
watched by their professors.  I for one don't really watch them much, and
often leave when they are writing exams, but this group believed that the
university is also a surveillance system.  In their play, they explained,
they space the guards so that if the prisoners want to leave they can just
do it; but the 'prisoners' don't even think about it and just stay instead.

A former group of students, in 2005, actually loved Discipline and Punish.
They told me that it can be seen as a practical manual of what to do so as
not to be caught at fault!  I prefer the dim view to that one, which almost
made me cry in class back then.

I found it ironic that this group wanted to have their video on YouTube, and
then found disturbing YouTube's message in my mailbox.


On 1/12/11 10:02 PM, "Johannes Birringer" <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>

> dear all
> I'm reading Gabriela's post and Marc's further elaborations on Foucualt
> (Vigilar y Castigar) with great interest,
> and am quite prepared (as this month's discussion comes at the right moment
> for me) to reflect on what Gabriela
> calls the "everyday effects of surveillance in our lives",
> and what Marc picks up in his analysis of the increasingly
> efficiently mechanized/administered processes (the  "complex mix of objects,
> agents 
> and networks exploiting and connecting via functional means with mediums
> such as digital networks, social media and the Internet across the board")
> that have become the 'physics of
> power.'  
> i probably (not sure what others here think?) will need to reflect on my own
> behaviors vis a vis networked
> communications, and whether it's sustainable to to be online at all times, and
> why there is such pressure
> to be accessed (by mails and information) at all times, and whether it's good
> for the health to be
> accessible at all.
> Gabriela's students chose to perform a panopticon situation, and we watch the
> watchers watch two men
> performing eating, working, having leisure time, sleeping, and repeating. one
> dies at the end and is dragged
> off stage,  Gabriela can you tell us more about why students wanted to
> "perform Foucault" and how they
> understand their investigations (of their lives? or of the panopticon in your
> country?) and the "upload" to youtube?
> and while reading i wondered, Marc, what "netbehavior" you find politically
> meaningful as a mode of
> sharing ideas or information or as a mode of counter-surveillance or self
> policing 
> (i tried to read http://www.netbehaviour.org/  but on my possibly cracked
> browser it is only an empty yellow page.... but after some search i stumbled
> across Alan Sondheim's flickered
> writings and some else's reporting on the experience of being "kettled" by
> police in the London student
> demonstrations (December 9).
> are we thinking that social networks or the internet are becoming a form of
> kettling?  are we then doing
> our own kettling by participating in a sustained unsustainable cynical
> darwinism that will wreck us?
> does the netopticon only concern the accessed/accessible?
> with regards
> Johannes Birringer
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

More information about the empyre mailing list